Joshua Berman – TRANSCRIPT
There I was, going up a 1,000 foot tall radio antenna somewhere east of Boulder, interviewing a base jumper named Billy Ricard, going up the service elevator. He had his parachute, I had my recorder, I was writing an article for a magazine called “Gravity.” We got to the top, Billy climbed a little bit higher, we stopped talking. I could feel the tower moving. I felt sick to my stomach as he bent his knees forward and towards the earth, and then he said, “Face your fears, Bro.” And he jumped.
And the blue strogue from the top of the tower flashed and it caught his body, right as it was dropping in front of me, and then it went out, and it was just black. I was 23 at the time, I was living this golden year in Boulder, Colorado, working for an extreme sports magazine, and waiting for a phone call from my Peace Corps recruiter to tell me where I was going to spend the next two and a half years of my life.
But standing up on that tower, I had no idea where I was headed. It was just this big, exciting void. Sure enough, I got my call a couple of weeks later, inviting me to serve in a beautiful country in Central America, with enormous tourism potential, but no tourists, and no guide books. That country was Nicaragua. They call it the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes. I spent my two years there, and I returned to write several travel guide books about Nicaragua, and about several other countries in Central America. This was an incredible time.
I travelled quite a bit. Sometimes for years on end, going from deadline to deadline. And I learned that travel is not always easy. In fact, it’s not even supposed to be easy. Travel comes from the word “travail,” which means to torment, to toil, to strive, to journey. And I learned that by accepting this, or at least being gracious when obstacles appear in your road, is the key to being a relaxed and effective traveler. Or as I like to call it, a “tranquilo traveler.” This was a sign on the highway on the way to my site in the Peace Corps. This is me as a volunteer. Those are Los Tigritos de San Antonio, that was our little environmental club in the neighbourhood.
You see, I learned that when you inject travel with a little bit of fear, and a little bit of unknown, it turns it into a very powerful thing — and it creates opportunities for really unexpected rewards. Travel can alter your life’s direction, it can transform your view of humanity, it can give you the power to change yourself or change the world.
My wife Sutay and I knew this. We got married pretty quickly, and we knew that we had to make up for lost time. We needed some good, intense experience, and we knew that travel was the most direct route to gaining that experience. So we started planning a big, epic, around the world volunteering honeymoon – but we weren’t sure where to start. Until one night, she started telling me about her great grandfather, Dr Ralph Randles Stewart. He was a botanist, an explorer, an educator — that’s him on the right, under the tent there. He was one of the first scientists to collect and describe the flora of northern India and Kashmir. He died in 1993, at the age of 103. He spent over 50 years of his life in Pakistan. “I’ve always wanted to go there,” said Sutay one night. And I knew that’s where we would go. Don’t you love it when a trip chooses you?
Kurt Vonnegut put it best. He said, “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” So in July 2005, we went to Pakistan. We knew very little about the country, or the culture. We kind of knew that Americans probably weren’t the flavor of the month. But we had a purpose. And we knew the name of the college where Dr Stewart had taught. And we went there. And we followed a string of clues, and it led us to the living room of Professor Khwaja Masud. He was the sole surviving colleague of Dr Stewart. And he had turned his living room into a museum to my wife’s great-grandfather. And it was an incredible night, an incredible evening.
He held up this photo from Dr Stewart’s last visit to Pakistan in 1990 at the age of 100. I first told the story of this encounter on my blog, in an entry in July 2005, called “Why We Traveled to Pakistan,” and it’s got quite a few interesting responses. But the most interesting came a couple of weeks ago. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. And it came from a man called Ali Khwaja, Professor Masud’s grandson. And Ali wrote to me, “In that photo, I’m the little one sitting on grandad’s lap on the right.” “The Professor Stewart’s visit was a huge deal,” he wrote, “and I really remember it well, Doctor Stewart was inspecting a thorny plant right before this photo was taken, and he pricked himself, and everybody panicked, and they sent my older cousin to go find a band-aid.” What a wonderful gift this was from Ali of travel coming full circle, that he had shared this with me, and that would have been enough, but the next line blew me away, because he wrote to me, “I see that you live in Boulder, I do too. My wife and I moved here two years ago and we absolutely love it. It’s actually very similar to Islamabad.”
If you’d like to find out how it is similar to Islamabad, you can ask Ali — he’s here in the audience tonight with his wife Wendy. Welcome! I knew his friend. This is the article that I published about base jumping and Billy Ricard. I rode the elevator down, picked him up, we went up, he jumped again I’m going to ask everyone tonight, right now, to think of the next place that you’re going to travel, or just one place that you’ve always wanted to travel but were a little bit scared. Think of it, think of the place, you’re going to shout it out in three seconds Ready? Undos tres. That’s your call to journey, everybody. Listen to it, and find your purpose, and face your fears. Thank you very much.